Five steps to setting clear Accountability

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Almost weekly, one of our Executive Leadership Coaches meets a leader or manager who is frustrated by people unwilling to take accountability for their actions, results and outcomes. After doing this work for 14 years, we continue to see the same missteps being taken by leaders and managers regarding accountability, they are:

  • Accountability is implied and generalised;
  • Accountability is assigned after the fact – particularly when desired outcomes are not achieved;
  • Accountability is imposed without adequate collaboration or negotiation;
  • Leaders and their people naively accept accountability being imposed without thinking.

When accountability is not set correctly, it more often than not results in blame and finger pointing, not to mention the huge cost of the hours spent reworking/correcting what has not been delivered. Productivity falls as people become demotivated and disenchanted. Rather than fostering a performance culture, the opposite occurs; people wriggle out of situations for which they are accountable, pass decisions to others and react to situations as they occur. Five key steps are required in setting accountability.

  1. It starts with a negotiated agreement between two or more parties which specifies clear roles for all involved, clear authority levels, deliverables and timeframes. Of these three areas, it is correctly assigning authority levels that is most often overlooked by leaders and managers;
  2. Detailed, visible, tangible and believable milestones are put in place which signal along the way that the goal is being achieved and when the end goal is met;
  3. There is clear and concise explanation of positive and negative consequences of completion or non-completion of accountable activities and actions;
  4. Sufficient resourcing (people, time, budget and materials) is available;
  5. Commitment is asked from those involved, meaning they will complete and see actions through no matter what the challenges.

A commitment is binary; people are either committed to deliver the outcome or they’re not. In making a commitment, people are guaranteeing what they have committed to do will be done on time, to agreed standards, and to budget. When people are not prepared to commit, a leader ends up with what is a best intention – meaning that people will give it their best effort. However if the desired outcomes are not achieved, so be it. We question how many people offer best intentions instead of leaders and managers locking down real accountability. And how many leaders and managers accept best intentions believing they have real accountability in place? For leaders and managers taking accountability seriously, this delivers a strong return for the time invested by making it far easier for them to lead and manage.